(nb I've posted this before, but I've just been an Arts Award Conference in Newcastle, presented it, and informed people that I would put it up on this blog to save them scribbling notes.)
Advocates for the arts find themselves facing some choices: do we claim the arts can help children achieve and by extension haul the UK up the league tables? Do we claim for them a unique role in pupils' mental and physical well-being? Do we say that the arts offer some kind of aid to school discipline, enlisting children in team-building?
Should we be linking the creative activities at the heart of the arts with active, inventive learning that can and should take place across the core curriculum? Do we say that the arts is an industry and part of the job of education is to train people so they can enter any industry, including the arts? Or should our claim be that old cry of the aesthetes – art for art's sake?
My own view is that the arts are neither superior nor inferior to anything else that goes on in schools. It's just as possible to make arts-focused lessons as weak, oppressive and dull as other subjects. It's just as possible to make those other lessons as enlightening, inventive and exciting as arts work.
The key is in the 'how' – not whether arts education in itself is a good thing but what kinds of approaches can make it worthwhile for pupils. We should think in terms of necessary elements:
'pupils' (or young people in any arts situation) should:
1) have a sense of ownership and control in the process of making and doing,
2) have a sense of possibility, transformation and change – that the process is not closed-ended with predictable, pre-planned outcomes, but that unexpected outcomes or content are possible,
3) feel safe in the process, that no matter what they do, they will not be exposed to ridicule, relentless assessment and testing, fear of being wrong or making errors,
4) feel the process can be individual, co-operative or both, accompanied by supportive and co-operative commentary which is safeguarded and encouraged by teachers/leaders/enablers,
5) feel there is a flow between the arts, and between what used to be called (wrongly) 'high-brow' and 'low-brow' and that these are not boxed off from each other according to old and fictitious boundaries and hierarchies,
6) feel they are working in an environment that welcomes their home cultures, backgrounds, heritages and languages into the process with no superimposed hierarchy,
7) feel that what they are making or doing matters – that the activity has status within the school, club, group and beyond
8) be encouraged and enabled to find audiences for their work whether in the same school, other schools or in the communities beyond the school gate, including digital (blogs, e-safe environments etc),
9) be exposed to the best practice and the best practitioners possible or available in order to see and feel other possibilities,
10) be encouraged to think of the arts as including or involving investigation, invention, discovery, play and co-operation and that these happen both within the actual making and doing but also in the talk, commentary and critical dialogue that goes on around the activity itself.